Is a video-game club at Ripon High School setting the bar higher for Ripon youth’s intellectual, physical or character enrichment?

Or is it simply acceding to students’ desire to have the Ripon School Board sanction their fun.

The Ripon School Board’s 5 to 3 (and one abstention) decision last month to permit creation of a League of Legends Club tepidly seemed to suggest that members will draw some value from the group besides just having a good time. That’s important; board policy requires extra-curricular organizations to foster learning.

... The application’s concluding sentence concedes that “It may seem like chaos, but if we are having fun and communicating you can be guaranteed there is learning occurring.”

Education as a byproduct of playing with friends is a weak defense of a club whose video game the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) describes as “a multiplayer strategy game in which players assume the role of magical ‘summoners’ who settle political disputes with arena-based battles.”

The board explains that League of Legends players control animal- and human-like warriors who kill opponents in “melee-style combat” using “swords, arrows, guns, and magic attacks.” The battles include “slashing sounds, colorful projectiles, and red blood splashes” and women are depicted in “form-fitting outfits that expose mild cleavage.” Occasionally suggestive jokes in the dialogue include “Sorry boys, I keep the fuzzy cuffs at home” and “Is that a rocket in your pocket?”

According to the ESRB, one character frequently imbibes from an oversized cask “slurring phrases such as ‘The only time I have a drinking problem is when I spill it.’”

But is there learning going on? Probably. And you have to admire the students who are organizing it. They could go home after school and play video games with friends. By creating a club, they are extending themselves to others who may not have the computer, software, knowledge or social skills to play with others.

But the violent, graphic, sexist, crude humor is inappropriate in a school setting. Before approving creation of a video game club, the School Board could have limited software to that which receives an E10+ rating (suitable for everyone age 10 and older).

Smut is pervasive in popular culture, but that doesn’t obligate school boards to be a party to it.

Best defense against applications for controversial clubs is a good offense. If the Ripon School Board members are serious about upping the high school’s game academically at a time when enrollments are shrinking and schools are competing for fewer dollars, they should encourage students seeking new extra-curricular outlets to consider more scholarly pursuits.

This might mean encouraging staff to oversee more vigorous groups than those whose members sit and flex their fingers as they do battle with imaginary creatures. A few ideas:

1. Debate — At a time when American leadership is increasingly immobilized by ideological inflexibility on the left and right, it’s more important than ever for young people to be able to research and then argue public-policy positions that may run counter to their own beliefs.

2. Newspaper — A strong, extra-curricular journalistic presence would be welcome within the school by reporting on student issues, changes in curriculum and policies, and the interesting lives of the students and staff who spend a third of their days working and learning at Ripon schools.

3. FEA — Joining the FFA and FBLA at Ripon High School could be a club, the Future Educators of American, that informs and prepares students to consider a career as a teacher.

There certainly are other and better ideas, but school administrators and board member might want to take a more proactive role in determining what after-school activities might better stimulate Ripon students’ intellect, build character and enrich their knowledge.

— Tim Lyke

To read the entire editorial, see the April 10, 2014 edition of The Ripon Commonwealth Press.

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